District 4 PSC Commissioner Mike Francis discusses Cleco backlash over Aug. 15 billing cycle issues
ALEXANDRIA, La. (KALB) - District 4 Public Service Commissioner Mike Francis said the phones have been ringing repeatedly in his office with complaints from Cleco customers, many of who are frustrated about the “timing issue” the company experienced during the Aug. 15 billing cycle.
The billing issue got public attention when a post by a Cleco customer went viral last week, when her family received a more than $1,100 bill for her Aug. 14 meter reading, having been charged $440 and 2,000 kilowatts more than her actual meter reading.
Cleco responded Tuesday, explaining that estimated bills received by customers on the Aug. 15 billing cycle, like the Atwoods, were due to a timing issue. The meter reading system was undergoing a quarterly maintenance update at the same time the billing system needed to bill the customer. The system defaulted to an estimated charge, which customers from that cycle received in the mail.
Though Cleco says they caught the issue on Aug. 14, canceled the bills and issued new ones, customers were not informed of the issue until more than a week later when we spoke with a Cleco communications strategist for an explanation of the discrepancy.
They also confirmed what Dana Atwood had suspected, it was not the first time the timing issue had occurred. It also happened in August 2021 to the exact same billing cycle. At that time, Cleco did not come forward with the reason why.
“Billing cycle nine got hit,” said Atwood. “Everybody on that billing cycle can pull up their August 2021 bill and see the read code of one to see that it’s an estimated bill. None of us were contacted.”
Though Cleco says bills are adjusted between billing cycles if a customer is either overcharged or undercharged, the lack of communication and trust between Cleco and its customers has raised concern for the Public Service Commission.
“There’s just an overall distrust when you have a monopoly in the area, which here, we literally have monopolies on every utility. We basically have no choice on internet, no choice on electricity, no choice on water, no choice on gas,” said Atwood. “You have one company that supplies all of these things or each of these things to everybody. So, it does create a distrust because we have no say so. Like everybody has to pay for electricity, and they know that we don’t have much leg to stand on. If they up the rates, we have to pay them. There’s nothing we can do.”
Commissioner Francis has been told the August billing issue was “due to a computer glitch,” but Francis says that has become a regular excuse from several utility providers, and it is just not a good enough answer.
He says customers pay for safe, reliable and affordable utilities, and transparency is a part of the reliability standard.
”We want transparency. We’re asking for it on behalf of all the customers. And that’s why I’ve asked Cleco to send one of their executives to explain this in living color on your television station,” said Francis. “And if they choose not to do that, we’ll assume that they don’t care, that they’re not interested in the reliability that we all pay for. And if that happens, the Public Service Commission will take things into our own hands, and we’ll make some transparency happen.”
Francis said action by the PSC could mean an investigation into Cleco operations, which could result in a lawsuit for damages if that investigation uncovers less-than-prudent operations.
“We know that things break,” said Francis. “But this is not acceptable to me as public service commissioner, and I demand that the executive from Cleco come forward and face the public.”
The commissioner told News Channel 5 that he has already urged Cleco to have someone in an executive position at the company come forward and address the public.
In an on-air interview with Francis Thursday, the commissioner said they are “digging into” the issue.
“We are, all of the commissioners, the Public Service Commission, are calling Cleco on the carpet for this, just for an explanation. And hopefully, we will understand that these are normal billing issues that are not regular,” Francis said.
Francis detailed that PSC will hold its regular meeting on Sept. 14 at 602 North Street in Baton Rouge, asking for concerned customers to attend the meeting and “ask these hard questions.”
“I’m going to ask the executive of Cleco to come and present their findings for this investigation to the five public service commissioners,” said Francis. “I’ll assure you that the commission is on top of this, we’re looking at it. We’re gonna hold Cleco accountable for anything that’s inefficient in this reliability issue.”
Francis says Cleco is a “great company in Central Louisiana,” and he “trusts that company” will give them the answers.
The commissioner also said he will join State Rep. Mike Johnson (R-District 27) for a town hall meeting in Pineville at the Kees Park Community Center later in September. Though it will be a part of Johnson’s routine town hall meetings, the commissioner will be given the opportunity to discuss utility concerns with customers.
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